Pittsburgh basks in glow of One Young World summit

| Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, 11:59 p.m.

Pittsburgh's role as host of the third annual One Young World summit helped showcase the city to the world's future innovators, organizers say.

The international conference, which drew 1,300 young adults mostly in their 20s from more than 180 countries, wrapped up on Sunday in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, with a series of speakers, including former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

“We don't know exactly how this will grow, but we've set something in motion,” said Steve Sokol, president of the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. “We have (1,300) new friends in Pittsburgh in 180 countries. When they talk about their American experience, they'll be talking about Pittsburgh and telling people about the city.”

One Young World began three years ago as a project to bring together young professionals to discuss global issues and develop ways to address them. Topics include health, education, business and human rights, among others.

Annan, in a nearly hourlong appearance, called the gathering a chance to cross borders and address common objectives. It's critical “that we accept, in today's world, we have no choice” but to collaborate, he said.

The diplomatic leader, 74, said the collaboration must extend to the United Nations, where he served as secretary-general from 1997 to 2006. He warned that divisions on its Security Council inhibit peace-making efforts in Syria, now 19 months into a civil war.

“As long as they remain divided, they are weak,” Annan said of permanent Security Council members including the United States and China. “They cannot sustain the collective pressure ... to stop the killing.”

Between policy messages and political discussions, many who attended the four-day summit expressed a newfound appreciation of Pittsburgh and a desire to return.

Raseeka Rahumathulla, 26, a delegate from Canada, said she would consider moving to the city because of the growing number of successful companies in the region.

“There are more opportunities than I expected,” she said. “I like that it's a more progressive city.”

Wilson Xin Li, 27, of China said he would “absolutely” consider doing business in the city after visiting.

“It's different than what I expected,” he said. “I saw Pittsburgh as a steel town. It's better than I expected. It's very clean, very friendly.”

Avinash Singh, 38, a banker from South Africa whose company sent 12 delegates to the summit, said Pittsburgh's role as host “speaks volumes on its willingness to embrace global diversity and support young people.”

“I would be keen to return to the city,” Singh said. “There is no chance I would have ever come here if it hadn't been for this.”

VisitPittsburgh estimated the conference would pump $5 million into Pittsburgh's economy through hotels, meals, transportation and other expenses for attendees.

The delegates gave two standing ovations to Annan, the last major speaker on a list that included former President Bill Clinton, Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, Live Aid founder Bob Geldof and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.

Annan's speech ranged from personal advice to international policy, advocating for reform and stronger participation from more countries in the United Nations.

“I think if we can reform the U.N. and broaden that base, we'll make it more democratic and more representative,” Annan said. “And it will gain greater legitimacy.”

On Syria, Annan said the war could spread and inflame the region.

“Syria is not Libya. It will not implode,” he said. “Syria will explode and explode beyond its borders if we do not handle it well.”

Katie McSorley, head of advertising group Havas' Pittsburgh office, said the collaboration of businesses, nonprofits and others that resulted in the summit's success can be used a model for future Pittsburgh events.

“We did not want this to be just another conference that passed through town,” McSorley said. “It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

One Young World will meet in 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Rachel Weaver and Adam Smeltz are staff writers for Trib Total Media.Weaver can be reached at 412-320-7948or rweaver@tribweb.com.Smeltz can be reached at 412-380-5676or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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